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Reptile and Amphibian Watchers Needed This Spring
AUSTIN, Texas — Spring in Texas brings bluebonnets, migration, and the end of hibernation for our warmth-loving species, the reptiles and amphibians of the state. While many amateur naturalists revel in the colorful plant displays and bursts of bird activity in the spring, Texas Parks and Wildlife is asking citizens to be on the lookout for our lesser known cold-blooded wildlife species-species whose trends may be important indicators of changes in our environment.
"Reptiles and amphibians don't really have 'cold' blood," says Wildlife Diversity biologist Lee Ann Linam. "They simply depend on warmth from sunlight to generate some of the energy that their body needs for its activity. For much of the year, we don't see reptiles and amphibians, so the spring is an important time for monitoring what is going on with these vulnerable species."
Recent reports indicate that there is reason for concern about reptiles and amphibians (commonly referred to as "herps"). An exhaustive report recently summarized in the magazine Science reported that almost a third of the world's amphibians are threatened with extinction. A report by NatureServe focusing on the western hemisphere indicates that more than 40 percent of our amphibian species are threatened. Declines have been linked with many causes, including habitat loss, pathogens, pesticides, and even climate change. Fewer comprehensive studies have been completed for reptiles; however, alarm has been sounded for many species, especially turtles and lizards.
Eight years ago, TPWD began enlisting help from Texas citizens in monitoring selected Texas reptiles and amphibians through a program called Texas Nature Trackers. In 1997 the Department launched the Texas Horned Lizard Watch, focusing on Texas' official state reptile, because citizens had begun noticing that horned lizards, often called "horny toads," had disappeared from many areas of the state. Citizen data collected by the watch program have helped to shed light on where horned lizards still occur and some of the factors associated with their presence or absence.
In 1998 TPWD joined national and global efforts to monitor the well-being of amphibians. Texas has a high diversity of frogs, toads, and salamanders, including several found nowhere else in the United States. Volunteers in Texas Amphibian Watch, who monitor mainly by listening for frog and toad calls at night, have been successful in detecting many of Texas' species, with results to date indicating that most species are stable in the state.
This year two more reptile species are joining TPWD's monitoring focus. Box turtles are familiar to many Texans, having once been common in the wild and in the pet trade; however, concern has been expressed about Texas' two species of box turtles, the Eastern (or Three-toed) Box Turtle and the Ornate Box Turtle. Just like sea turtles, box turtles have long life spans and can take many years to reach maturity. In addition, box turtles produce few young. Therefore, scientists are interested in finding out whether there are any downward trends in box turtle numbers in the wild that could indicate trouble for the species being able to maintain itself. TPWD scientists are inviting members of the public to help them collect sightings of box turtles in 2005 through the Box Turtle Survey Project.
Linam notes that reptile- and amphibian-watching has benefits both for the species and the observer. "Sometimes at first people aren't attracted to watching and studying reptiles and amphibians, but many people who get involved have rewarding experiences-whether it's learning to recognize the trill of a toad's song, taking time to watch a horned lizard lap up harvester ants, or observing the intricate beauty of a box turtle shell. In return, the species and TPWD benefit from having these extra 'eyes in the field' help us understand the conservation needs and priorities for the species."
Texas Horned Lizard Watch, Texas Amphibian Watch, and the Texas Box Turtle Survey Project all offer free monitoring materials. In addition, Texas Amphibian Watch offers a CD of frog and toad calls for $5 and training workshops for $10. For more information contact Texas Nature Trackers at (800) 792-1112 x 7011 or visit the Web site.
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